Since the post-game press conference heard 'round the world back in 2008, the San Francisco 49ers have clearly established their team mantra of "Hit people in the mouth."
While it stands in stark contrast to the elegant sophistication of Bill Walsh's "Beat you to the punch," such a mantra seems to make perfect sense for a team led by, and embodying the spirit of one of the greatest and most fearsome defensive players in NFL history, head coach Mike Singletary.
With the development of linebacker Patrick Willis anchoring an ever-improving defense which seems to be on the verge of great things, the steady presence of bona fide star running back Frank Gore, the hiring and retention of offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, and the offensive infusion of two towering offensive linemen and change-of-pace back Anthony Dixon in the 2010 Draft, the 49ers seem to be firmly committed to a disciplined, defense-and-running oriented, pure "smash mouth" approach to football.
It seems simple enough. After all, stout defense has seemingly always gone hand-in-hand with run-centric, ball control offense. However, the 49ers need to walk a delicate line between dauntingly smash mouth, and foolishly stubborn.
No matter how good a running game and offensive line is, if a defense knows exactly what to expect, they can stack the box play after play, and limit production in key situations. Even Coach Sing's own 1985 Chicago Bears and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens had the ability to go to the air when they needed to, and this 49ers roster has some impressive weapons in that area.
Alex Smith seemingly sits poised for a break out season after a productive stretch of games to close out 2009. Vernon Davis comes off a record-tying, Pro Bowl season, and Michael Crabtree and a young core of wide receivers continue to evolve. Improved play from the offensive line should allow more options in the passing game as well as the running game.
With a potentially great rushing attack, the 49ers should have some great opportunities to catch teams off-guard in 2010—with play action or delayed routes—catching defenses keying in on the ground game, and beating them deep for quick strike scores. The 49ers should stay vigilant in watching for these opportunities, and resist the urge to over-focus on the ground game.
The 49ers should not need to rely heavily on the passing game too often in 2010, but the talent on the roster gives the team the capability to have a truly daunting offensive attack, one which could develop into a unit every bit as fearsome as their defense. This is a rarity in the annals of NFL history.
Just because a team has a stifling defense does not mean they need to have a predictable, bland, or "boring" offense. Ball control is great, but quick scores can be just as effective. The new-look 49ers could become a true force in the NFL on both sides of the ball. They have bucked NFL conventions in the past, now is the time to do it again.
Keep the Faith!